Gabapentinoids—which include gabapentin and pregabalin—are licensed as anti-seizure and nerve pain medications, but around 95 percent of prescriptions are 'off-label', meaning they are given to treat other health problems, such as migraine and fibromyalgia.
Nobody is tracking the safety of the drugs for these problems or how people are taking them, say researchers from the University of Michigan. The sudden increase in prescriptions has partly been caused by doctors prescribing them to cancer patients to help them with their pain—but patients as young as 18 have also been handed a prescription, suggesting it's being used for other conditions too.
The number of cancer patients given a prescription increased from 3.3 percent in 2005 to 8.3 percent in 2015, with the total number of prescriptions increasing from 1.2 million to 3.5 million over the 10 years.
But the drugs may not be the best solution, even for cancer patients, the researchers warn. It's not clear just how the drug works, and the potential for abuse and addiction is high. Because they are powerful drugs, they can also interact badly with other medication.